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Toe to Toe

Toe to Toe

BY PETER ANDEREGG

LIGHTS UP.  VIRGIL, mid-60's, glares at a mirror's reflection of the bowtie loosely draped around his neck.  He's frustrated by his ignorance of how to tie it.  PETULA, also mid-60's, bustles in wearing an evening dress.  She has interrupted her toilette to rescue him.

               VIRGIL

Why do I have a bowtie?  I hate bowties.  They gave my father a bowtie in his coffin.  He looked like a waiter.  He wasn't a waiter.  He was a shoe salesman.  Never wore a bowtie in his life.  When he got married, he was naked.  They were both naked.  On a nudist beach in Florida.  It was a thing.  It wasn't a philosophy.  The old man didn't like layers of fabric blocking his view of women.  My mother should have known right then it wasn't going to last.

               PETULA

     (Fixing his bowtie.)

Stop it, Virgil.  Your parents got married in a church.  I've seen the pictures.

               VIRGIL 

Okay but he wanted to get married on a nudist beach.  He told me that.  Maybe if mom hadn't been such a prude, their marriage would have worked out. 

               PETULA

Their marriage was wonderful.  They were happy together until the day he died.

               VIRGIL

Right.  He was so happy at his retirement party, he faced spending the rest of his life with my mother by having a heart attack mid-toast.  "Ladies and gentleman, I'd like to raise a glass to my lovely wife, without whom – splat!"  Keeled over into a dish of lemon sherbert.  Never got to say 'without whom' what.

               PETULA

Without whom his life would have been empty.

               VIRGIL

Or different.  Maybe he would have done something besides deal with smelly feet all day.

               PETULA

Your father was a podiatrist, Virgil.  Why are you being so disagreeable?


               VIRGIL

Because I'm at the age he was when he nose-dived into dessert. You’ve got me in this funeral tux to celebrate my retirement, which was what he was celebrating.  This could be the last night of my life, Petula, and I want you to know if it is, it's all your fault. 

               PETULA

Of course, dear.  It's always my fault.  We can discuss it tomorrow when you wake up disappointed to be alive.

               VIRGIL

Don't mock me, Pet; I'm serious.  There're things we need to talk about.

               PETULA

Like what?

               VIRGIL

Like my forties and fifties.  

               PETULA

What about them?

               VIRGIL

I forget them.  I can't remember a single thing I did.  I was thirty, blinked my eyes and turned sixty-six.  Suddenly dinner conversations stopped being about future plans and started being about Social Security.

               PETULA

You're limping.

               VIRGIL

Those are not exciting topics, Petula.  They make you reflective.  They make you think about epitaphs and eulogies. 

               PETULA

Did you hurt your foot?

               VIRGIL

They make you question your career choice.  I was a funeral director for forty years.  Did that make the world a better place?

               PETULA

You were an attorney.

               VIRGIL

Same thing - years of helping people avoid blame for doing dumb things, embalming their sense of personal responsibility and burying it so far away they can never find it again.


               PETULA

Why are you limping?

               VIRGIL

I kicked a rock.  The one in the garden. 

               PETULA

The boulder?  How did you do that?

               VIRGIL

I kicked it.  The only times in my life I remember clearly I was sick or depressed, or you were.  In my forties, there was that tumor in my neck. Cost me a bunch of lymph nodes. Admittedly I don't know what a lymph node is or what one does but I know my inventory is now depleted.

               PETULA

They act as filters.

               VIRGIL

In my fifties, I was diagnosed with malignant kidney cancer. That memory's clear as glass.  The doctor says, "It's not urgent but we'd like to operate in two weeks."  I say, "Why wait?  I'm free this afternoon."

               PETULA

It turned out to be benign.

               VIRGIL

When a doctor says a thing's "not urgent" you think of a dentist filling a cavity in six months, not major surgery in two weeks.  That’s a five alarm fire!

               PETULA

Why did you kick the boulder?

               VIRGIL

The rest of the decade's dance card was filled with pneumonia and a hernia, thank you very much.  

               PETULA

The pneumonia lasted six weeks and the hernia was fixed with day surgery.

               VIRGIL

So far my sixties have only featured an encore of my award-winning colonoscopy.

               PETULA

Which is very fortunate.  Why are you being so morbid?


               VIRGIL

I'm not being morbid, honey.  I'm coming to grips with reality.  Time slows down when I'm miserable.  The days drag on.  I only just figured that out.  When I'm happy, like when I'm with you or mummifying a client’s morality, that's when time streaks past!  Now we're going into our golden years and I have to put on the brakes or it'll all be over before we know it!  

               PETULA

You kicked the boulder on purpose.

               VIRGIL

I did.  And I think I broke my toe.

               PETULA

Which one?

               VIRGIL

The long ugly one next to the big one.  And it's killing me.

               PETULA

Maybe you should sit down.

               VIRGIL

No!  That would relieve the pain.

               PETULA

Is this what I have to look forward to?  You hurting yourself whenever there's a chance we might have some fun? 

               VIRGIL

It's the only way to make life last longer.  I had a cake on my twenty-fifth birthday and blew out all the candles then counted them.  There were sixty-six.  That's not Tomorrow 'creeping by in its petty pace from day to day to the last syllable.' That's Tomorrow roaring up and mugging you like a god damn freight train!

               PETULA

We should make an appointment to have your foot x-rayed.

               VIRGIL

There's nothing to do but tape it to the next toe.  It'll heal eventually.

               PETULA

In the meantime, you hobble around and suffer.

               VIRGIL

That's the plan.

               PETULA

Are you saying you don't want to go to your retirement dinner tonight?

               VIRGIL

No it's too late to beg off.  It'll be tedious and embarrassing and drag on endlessly but that's why I must be there.

               PETULA

Tedious, embarrassing and endless will make you happy.

               VIRGIL

I'll relish every dreadful second.

               PETULA

And what about the trip?

               VIRGIL

Let's talk about that later.

               PETULA

No let's talk about that now.  Later you'll be having a heart attack and diving into sherbert.

               VIRGIL

You didn't ask them to serve sherbert, did you?

               PETULA

No of course not but now that you mention it maybe I should have, considering how you can't stand the stuff since your father.  

               VIRGIL

It makes me shudder.

               PETULA

Then it would've been the perfect faux pas to start off the evening’s social trauma.

               VIRGIL

Yes!  That's right! That's good, honey! 

               PETULA

You're going to try to back out of Paris, aren't you?

               VIRGIL

Well it is a lot of money and we're living on a fixed income now.

               PETULA

It's already paid for.

               VIRGIL

I don't speak French.

               PETULA

All the better.  Being unable to communicate will make your stay more uncomfortable. 

               VIRGIL

Americans aren't very popular right now.


               PETULA

Which fits perfectly with this new attitude.  

               VIRGIL

No I'm sorry, honey, the truth is I love the pasteries and the wines and the Eiffel Tower.  And Jacques Brel is one of my favorite musicals. You know the French practically invented the avante-garde!

               PETULA

Yes they did.  It's their word.

               VIRGIL

You see why we can't go.

               PETULA

No I don't see.

               VIRGIL

Weren't you listening?  I’m a Francophile!  Do you want me to die of euphoria the minute we land!?  

               PETULA

Where is this all coming from?  Did you hit something else besides your toe?

               VIRGIL

I was down in the basement today.  I found a box of old tax returns and they were all the same.  Year after year.  Reported income went up but the deductions never changed.  I couldn’t recall a single thing we did.  You know we never got audited, not once!

               PETULA

I thought that was the idea.

               VIRGIL

We never declared a spare bedroom as a home office or wrote off a vacation as a business trip.  There was never a reason to sweat out the statute-of-limitations.  Do you know I've never had an affair?

               PETULA

     (Startled.)

Me either.  Is that supposed to be something I regret?

               VIRGIL

I've never even been tempted.  Our marriage has been appallingly happy.

               PETULA

I'm sorry to hear that.  Do you want me to file for divorce?


               VIRGIL

Would you please?

               PETULA

I might if you call off the trip.

               VIRGIL

You know our sex life is a blur.  

               PETULA

That's not a very nice thing to say.

               VIRGIL

I mean of all our thousands of couplings, I can only remember a few dozen.

               PETULA

I'd like to think I can remember them all. 

               VIRGIL

But you can't.  That's what I'm saying.  Remember hiking the trail in Yosemite that one time?  Or your bedroom when your parents weren't home?  Or the B-and-B with the music?

               PETULA

The car on the way to that place we were late.

               VIRGIL

The living room when I spilled the wine. 

               PETULA

The stairs.

               VIRGIL

Oh the stairs!

               PETULA

And the bra hook...

               VIRGIL

The bra padlock, more like.

               PETULA

The roof with the pigeon.

               VIRGIL

The peeping pigeon.  The broken headboard.

               PETULA

We were so young.  That time the phone rang. 

               VIRGIL

Yes that was the best, right up there with the aluminum shower stall.

               PETULA

Seattle.

               VIRGIL

Mohonk.

               PETULA

Oh you got me there!

               VIRGIL

I did.

               PETULA

The thunderstorm when we forgot to close the window?

               VIRGIL

That was a mess.

               PETULA

The fireplace.

               VIRGIL

Yes the ... what fireplace?

               PETULA

You know, the fireplace.

               VIRGIL

There was a fireplace?

               PETULA

Two fireplaces actually.  Fire is so erotic.

               VIRGIL

I don't remember any fireplaces. 

               PETULA

Wasn't that you? 

               VIRGIL

No!

               PETULA

It must have been someone else.

               VIRGIL

Someone else!?

               PETULA

     (Smiles.)

There you are.  That’ll give you some sleepless nights.  

               VIRGIL

Excuse me?

               PETULA

You're welcome.

               VIRGIL

Oh I see.  You made that up.

               PETULA

Did I?

               VIRGIL

You're teasing me.

               PETULA

Yes okay let's say I'm teasing you.

               VIRGIL

You are teasing me.

               PETULA

We just agreed I was.

               VIRGIL

I mean for real. 

               PETULA

Savor the anguish, sweetheart.  

               VIRGIL

     (Kisses her.)

You're charming.

               PETULA

I love you too.

               VIRGIL

Can't you be tiresome for a change?  Maybe if we'd fought more, we wouldn't have gotten old so soon.  Look at the Fergusons; they fight so much they're probably still back in their twenties.

               PETULA

It's too late to start being dysfunctional, Virgil.

               VIRGIL

It's never too late.  If we start now and really commit to it, we can make the rest of our days interminable.

               PETULA

Oh look at the time!  I better finish dressing.

               VIRGIL

The time?

     (Looks.)

Damn it to hell!  This is exactly what I'm talking about.  We lose track of Time!  The trip to Paris is definitely off!

               PETULA

It's off?

               VIRGIL

We're not going!


               PETULA

You don't mean that.

               VIRGIL

I do.  Look how time flies when we're together!

               PETULA

     (Pause.)

If you call off the trip I'll make the last years of your life the happiest years you ever spend on this Earth!

               VIRGIL

You don't mean that.

               PETULA

I do.  I'll make every waking moment a living heaven.  Your favorite breakfasts every day, a back massage every night, and we'll only watch your favorite TV shows.

               VIRGIL

No!

               PETULA

I'll never ask for the remote.

               VIRGIL

Stop!

               PETULA

I'll never make you wear bowties.  And I'll always have an excuse ready to get you out of parties.  I'll even let you buy a boat.

               VIRGIL

You wouldn't!

               PETULA

I would.

               VIRGIL

Too much!  That's too much!

               PETULA

I want to go to Paris.  

               VIRGIL

I'm seeing a side of you I never knew was there before.  And it's not pretty. 

               PETULA

How about this - I go to Paris without you?  Consider it a retirement present.  You stay home and stew in loneliness and despair, feel the hours crawl by while picturing me strolling along the Champs-Élysées with my handsome chimneysweep.


               VIRGIL

We're back to fireplaces.

     (He ponders.)

The plane won’t have enough leg room.

               PETULA

You can bet on it.  And there’ll probably be children.

               VIRGIL

There always are.  The room service at the hotel will be something to complain about.

               PETULA

If we're lucky the bed will be lumpy and there'll be a draft.

               VIRGIL

Here's hoping!

               PETULA

And I've been reading up on walking tours.

               VIRGIL

That ought to be excruciating with my broken toe.

               PETULA

You might even get blisters.

               VIRGIL

That's it!  We're going to live forever, baby!

               PETULA

Now I have to finish up.

               VIRGIL

Maybe if we'd been poorer, we’d have been more aware of surviving each day.

               PETULA

Don't start again.

               VIRGIL

I'm trying to buy us Time!

LIGHTS OUT.

     End of play

 

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